3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
When Robots Run Themselves,
This review is from: Saturn's Children (Hardcover)
Stross is one of the newer hard-sf voices, and his previous books have shown a great inventiveness and a plethora of ideas and concepts that go well beyond what we've seen in the field before. This book, while firmly grounded in homage to some of the great early SF masters of Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, is in many ways just as inventive as his earlier books.
The situation is a solar system populated entirely by robots; their creators, us poor humans, having given up the ghost a couple of centuries ago (exact means of our demise never explicitly stated), but in any case, humans have left the building. This situation alone is reminiscent of Simak's City, where the humans left en-masse for Jupiter, and left stewardship of Earth in the hands of robots. But unlike that story, here we have a vibrant society of robots, who only nominally follow Asimov's Three Laws, robots that have evolved various classes and a hierarchy based on power and money, complete with a method of completely enslaving a robot who has run out of funds.
The story follows Freya, a sexbot built to service the sexual needs of the now long-gone humans, and as such can find no purpose to her life. She has to make do with sex with other robots, which is simply not as satisfying. But the plot very quickly becomes very complicated, as Freya is hired to transport a certain illicit package to Mars (shades of Heinlein's Friday), and in doing so becomes involved in schemes and counter-schemes by those who are attempting to really control the entire solar system. During the course of delving into these schemes, we are treated to a grand tour of the Solar system, from Mercury all the way out to the Oort cloud, all thoroughly grounded in the best information currently available about conditions of each of Sol's family members.
In many ways, this book's message is about identity and just what makes a `person', as one of the capabilities these robots have is to record and exchange `soul-chips' with other robots of the same lineage. While this message is clear, it also leads to the major problem with this book. In its later stages it becomes very difficult to keep track of just who is who (schizophrenia runs rampant!), who the bad and good guys really are, and just what the ultimate purpose of each of the factions really is. Freya's character, which had been so carefully and well built up in the first half of this book, seems to get lost in all the multiple other personalities. Alongside of this is one other problem: the portrayed level of sexual attraction Freya feels for another robot who is extremely close to the model of their Creators (i.e., a human male), as I found it rather unbelievable that robots would be designed with such an overriding complex that it would subsume their normal rationality.
The ending was also a bit of a disappointment, with a bit too much of `all ends well' and `things will get better from now on', and too little resolution of some of the more complicated details of the various plot threads.
There's a fair amount of sex in this book, almost a given due to its premise, and while never extremely graphic, does include certain varieties that some might consider `kinky', and certainly makes this book unsuitable for younger people.
Inventive and scientifically solid, but eventually too complicated to really satisfy.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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Initial post: 24 Apr 2011 01:22:12 BDT
Graeme M. Wolvaardt says:
I take issue with your review: the entire *point* of the uncertainty as to who is who is a fundamental part of the book - the blurring or erasure of identity or self.
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